In Warren, concern over impact of restaurant legislation

Councilors fear legislation proposed would strip town of ability to enforce regulations as Covid-19 pandemic eases

By Ted Hayes
Posted 5/14/21

As the state and federal governments scale back Covid-related restrictions, town officials are watching proposed legislation that they fear might harm the town's ability to enforce some of its laws …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


In Warren, concern over impact of restaurant legislation

Councilors fear legislation proposed would strip town of ability to enforce regulations as Covid-19 pandemic eases

Posted

As the state and federal governments scale back Covid-related restrictions, town officials are watching proposed legislation that they fear might harm the town's ability to enforce some of its laws as life returns to some form of normal.

The legislation, proposed by Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Narragansett, South Kingstown), would impose a six-month moratorium on the enforcement of any local ordinance or zoning regulation that would penalize food or food service businesses that have modified their business practices to comply with directives set in place to control the Covid-19 pandemic. It would remain in effect for six months after any statewide declaration of emergency has been rescinded or until Jan. 1, 2022, whichever comes first.

In Warren, which last year eased zoning restrictions and took other measures to allow restaurants to expand outdoor and sidewalk seating, the broad nature of the proposed legislation is troubling, Warren Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto said.

It "handicaps the ability of a town to have any oversight and regulation over these types of businesses," he said.

There are other possible impacts that worry them, Warren Town Council members said this week. With the prevalence of outdoor dining here, councilors worry that if some businesses know they can't be held accountable for overstepping town restrictions, unsafe conditions could be created with no ability for the town to address them. Though councilors said they don't believe many, if any of Warren's establishments would try to flout local laws, the legislation, if passed and signed by the governor, would give the town very little oversight and could lead to liability issues, they said.

"As much as we want to support our businesses and allow them to modify their service and seating ... I have some concern for public safety," Brandt Heckert said. "The way some of these tables are being placed on sidewalks, to the point where the public has to step into the street to pass by ... we could be liable, essentially, if we allow that to continue."

How congested the sidewalks really are is debatable, councilor Steve Calenda said, as "I do see some congestion but I don't think it's absolutely an atrocity where people are being forced out into the streets."

"I think as a council we should be doing everything in our power to make sure these establishments can stay functioning. They ... have taken it on the chin."

"But we also have a responsibility to the public and to public safety," Mr. Heckert responded. "What it comes down to is a balance, where yes you allow (seating) on the sidewalks, there's nothing wrong with that. But I think there needs to be oversight for safety reasons."

Councilors directed Warren Town Manager Kate Michaud to reach out to local legislators to get more information and clarity on the proposal.

In the meantime, council president Keri Cronin recommended, and her fellow councilors agreed, to alert police and fire officials "that there would be periodic check-ins just noting when it's getting out of control or when there's possible unsafe conditions happening."

"I think any of our businesses, any of our restaurants, would take that friendly pointing out that the situation was unsafe ... and would want to protect their customers as well," she said.

"As long as we can ensure public safety I don't imagine that any of our business owners, our restaurant owners are going to feel attacked ... if there is a safety concern that is pointed out by a member of the fire department or police department."

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.